Before I begin, I need to address the elephant in the room. I’ve never played The Evil Within. Not for lack of wanting, but merely for lack of time. Typically I have a rule that I will not play a game’s sequel without having first played the original title. But when a game like The Evil Within 2 lands in your lap for review, you make exceptions. And so I broke the rule. I have no regrets.
Three years after the traumatic events that unfold in The Evil Within, Bethesda and Tango Gameworks reunites players with the utterly broken protagonist, Sebastian Castellanos. Sebastian is little more than a shell of a man as he deals with the grief of losing his daughter, Lily, in a house fire (which resulted in a strained relationship with his wife, Myra) while still being haunted by the events that occurred in Beacon Mental Hospital during The Evil Within. His former colleague, Juli Kidman, finds him at the bottom of a bottle in a run down bar. The two spar over Juli’s absence, as Sebastian had attempted to find her during the three year time gap. Juli informs Sebastian she knew he had been seeking her out, and then informs him that his daughter, Lily, is actually still very alive. The drunken Sebastian becomes enraged and combative with the MOBIUS agents that are with Juli, leading her to use a tranquilizer dart on him.
Once Kidman and Sebastian are back at the MOBIUS facility, the events that came to pass the last three years are better explained. The STEM unit that was being prototyped using the mind of a serial killer in The Evil Within has been revamped, but the results of using the mind of a deranged adult as the core have pushed MOBIUS into another direction. If the pliable minds of the mentally ill result in worlds that are too dangerous, then it only makes sense that the pliable but innocent mind of a child would fare better for MOBIUS’ goal. Thus, Sebastian’s daughter, Lily, was chosen to serve as the core for the next STEM experiment. The fire at the Castellanos home was merely a cover up for Lily’s kidnapping and she’s been in the care of MOBIUS this entire time. Her mind has been used by MOBIUS to set up the town of Union, a idealistic utopia for a collective of consciousnesses. Lily’s disappeared within Union, however, and her absence is resulting in the destruction of the project.
Lily is used as a carrot to dangle over Sebastian so that he will agree to reenter STEM. Sebastian begins his return to STEM by entering his safe room, which resembles his office from his former role on the Krimson City Police Department. There are 3 cork bulletin boards on the right side of the first room, where Kidman can send information she acquires in reality to Sebastian inside of STEM. This includes information on a team of 5 MOBIUS members who have also gone missing inside of Union. Kidman stresses its important for Sebastian to locate these team members as they are vital to his success in extracting from Union with Lily once he finds her. In addition to the info boards, there is a projector where players can view collectible slides they pick up during the game, a device for which to create manual saves, and a broken mirror.
Fans of the first Evil Within will recognize the broken mirror as the passport to interacting with Nurse Tatiana and that holds true for The Evil Within 2, as well. Tatiana serves to help Sebastian inside of Union by offering valuable upgrades to Sebastian’s stamina, health, and weapon expertise in exchange for the green gel Sebastian collects from killing The Lost and red gel that can be found by exploring. Once all of the ground work is laid, players are finally cut loose in the town of Union, where they are given a semi open world experience. Tread lightly, though, as the town is crawling with the Lost, the transformed creatures of Union residents who are surprisingly zombie like in their mannerisms.
Sebastian seems woefully unprepared with his pea shooter of a hand gun hunting knife, and as someone who had not previously played The Evil Within I found these early moments instilling a sense of dread and nervousness. The town of Union is designed to perfection, and even in its disheveled and broken state it shows off as a town where people lived and worked, making it a much more realistic environment that you wanted to uncover and explore rather than just serving as a backdrop for massacring hordes of the Lost.
The Evil Within really pushes the stealthy approach, encouraging players to hide behind cover and use their knife to take down the Lost with stealth and ambushes. However, in the early parts of the story, Union is fairly well in tact, and there’s a plethora of items to scavenge. Gunpowder is seemingly in every trash can and abandoned vehicle, which seems odd given the idealistic utopia nature of the city. Once I became comfortable with the movement patterns of the Lost and cocky about the obscene amount of gunpowder and ammunition I was leaving behind I abandoned the stealth approach and began just taking on the Lost head on.
This was a great idea for collecting scores of green gel that I could use to improve Sebastian, but also a very bad habit to develop. As I progressed through Union, uncovering more and more of the details surrounding Lily’s abduction to be used of the core and her subsequent disappearance I began to encounter mini bosses and tougher enemies, and that well of consumables that could be crafted for bullets (either at a crafting bench, or on the fly from a radial menu at an increased supply cost) or special bolts for the Warden crossbow began to run perilously dry. If the grotesquely terrifying enemies that Sebastian encountered inside of Union were not enough of a fright on their own, surely clicking through your radial wheel to discover that all of your weapons are sitting on empty and you only have enough gunpowder to craft 1 or 2 bullets for your pistol will leave you in need of an adult diaper.
The resource scarcity does a fantastic job of increasing the sense of despair and dread that The Evil Within 2 thrives on, but it also adds for an element of challenge and tension to the game play in and of itself. The game forces players to consider their surroundings in an effort to eliminate enemies with as little ammunition as possible. Fire hydrants, for example, can be opened up to spew water which better conducts the electrical current from shock bolts. Oil cans can be tipped over to create slicks that can be ignited with a single pistol bullet thus spreading out the damage to any of the Lost that are in the area of effect.
Although the consumable resources become increasingly scarce in Union, they are undeniable difficult to miss as they possess a telltale gold flicker that makes them easy to spot. This was surprisingly reminiscent of old school Resident Evil games, especially when coupled with the over-the-shoulder 3rd person camera perspective and slow, cumbersome movement of Sebastian. A quick search of the interwebs confirmed the parallels I was drawing in my mind when I discovered that The Evil Within 2 was produced by Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil fame. The game practically oozes his influence.
Despite reports of sub par gameplay on Xbox One, I only encountered one hiccup during my time with The Evil Within 2. Following a stressful scene in which I managed to escape an enemy despite having absolutely no ammunition, the game began to progress to move out of a small cut scene and back to being playable as it saved. To my horror, everything crashed to the Xbox dashboard while the save icon was doing its thing. Two things go through your mind when a game crashes while saving after an intense battle – “Oh god, please don’t make me replay that sequence. I don’t think I can do it twice.” and also “Please don’t corrupt this game and make me restart from the beginning.” Fortunately, relaunching the game brought me right back to the moment of the crash and I was able to carry on without any further issues.
My experience with The Evil Within 2 was relatively smooth (of course, aside from the aforementioned crash.) and for the most part the game is absolutely stunning in its design. Combat feels fluid, even though stealth is really the way to go. However, there are some sequences where Sebastian has the ability to interact with NPCs he encounters inside Union, and these particular scenes are shocking in how much their quality deviates from the rest of the game. These are most evident during Sebastian’s conversations with MOBIUS team member, Yukiko Hoffman. The scenes graphical quality is notably lower than the graphic quality of both game play and cut scenes, and Yukiko’s animations during the conversations are awkward and repetitive.
Despite this, The Evil Within 2 tells an admirable tale of a man’s love for his family and his struggle to overcome his guilt. While the story does make use of some of the typical video game and horror movie tropes (most notably the grizzled, fatherly anti hero and the flamboyant, misunderstood artist turned villain), it is easily forgivable when the layers of betrayal and redemption are built up in later acts. Completing the game unlocks a New Game plus mode, which allows players to replay the game while retaining some of their previous upgrades, as well as some additional wardrobe pieces for Sebastian. And thank goodness for it, as I simply can not wait to explore Union again, and uncover more of the little details buried away that I may have missed my first time through.